I’ve been thinking of a comment bfp left here a few weeks ago
…because of borders, I became “mexican” rather than indigenous…
and reflecting on how maps and borders classify people, instead of the other way around.
In Imagined Communities, Benedict Anderson studied how cultural instruments such as maps, the census, and museums were not only a result of colonization, but in fact served and furthered colonial interests. These regulatory instruments illuminated “the late colonial state’s style of thinking about its domain” (184). The grid of maps allowed for serialization in the colonies. The Netherlands could therefore be reproduced in the Netherlands Indies and New Amsterdam. Mother Spain is reproduced in the Philippines, in the encomienda system and in the surnames people had to take for classification.
People’s lives were molded and organized around these classification tools, these imposed borders. Classification and technology made peoples, groups, and territories visible to the colonial powers, allowing them to reproduce themselves through empire and colonization.
And what of those people who do not fit the set classifications? They’re the ones who get categorized as not statistically significant. The ones that we turn into Others, into Outliers. It’s okay for them to be the collateral damage of what gets called progress.
A quote from Walter Benjamin, which I’ve seen most recently from Curate:
There is a painting by Klee called Angelus Novus. . . . His face is turned toward the past. Where a chain of events appears before us, he sees on single catastrophe, which keeps piling wreckage upon wreckage and hurls it at his feet. The angel would like to stay, awaken the dead, and make whole what has been smashed. But a storm is blowing from Paradise and has got caught in his wings; it is so strong that the angel can no longer close them. This storm drives him irresistibly into the future to which his back is turned, while the pile of debris before him grows toward the sky. What we call progress is this storm.
I’m one of those people who find it hard to read maps. I can’t help but wonder what has been exluded, and why. What is flattened out?
And whose lives get disappeard into that pile of debris?